E-commerce: A Silent Revolution in India
There is a silent revolution taking place in the way the government is doing business, in line with the new policy for promoting e-governance in all sectors of the economy. Emphasis is laid on the use of technology to the maximum extent so as to ensure complete transparency, competition, and maximum revenue generation. Due to its versatility, the internet can offer more information about products and services than traditional media and offer interactivity on a global scale. In today’s world, it is fair to say that e-commerce brings people and organisations closer and is more relevant for the Government to engage itself with the people.
The CAG report on assumed losses to the national exchequer due to arbitrary allotment of natural resources awakened India and created awareness among the general public for the need to adopt fair and transparent processes. After the Supreme Court canceled allotment of 204 coal blocks and ordered for e-auctioning, there was a general confusion about the way forward. However, the e-auctioning of all the 204 coal blocks was taken up as a challenge in earnest by the Government and MSTC Limited. The agencies worked in tandem in record time, and the first phase successfully auctioned 29 and allotted 38 coal blocks bringing in likely revenue of Rs. 3.35 lakh crore for the next 30 years to various State Governments. This is over and above the accrual that will be available to the public and industry in the form of lower electricity tariff.
Based on the success of coal block e-auction procedure, the Union Cabinet decided to distribute subsidy to the stranded gas based power plants in the country utilising the Power System Development Fund of Rs. 8000 crore. Such a policy will enable the power producers to service debts and meet operational expenses. Besides, this will benefit consumers with competitive tariffs and greater availability of power, and save huge NPAs (Non-performing Assets) for the Banking Sector. Similar to the coal block allocation, mineral blocks were also arbitrarily allotted earlier, putting in jeopardy the very credibility of the Government. It has now been decided that mineral blocks will also be put up for e-auctioning so as to ensure transparency, increase competition and maximise revenue generation. Sale of minerals, industrial produce, agro-based business and forest products, among others, are some of the other areas where great strides have been made in introducing technology and doing away with traditional role players like middlemen.
Some recent success stories are:
- Global e-Tender-cum-e-Auction in multi-currency of Red Sander Wood, valued at Rs 850 crore, was e-auctioned through MSTC e-platform.
- E-Auction of Timber in Kerala: Introduction of e-Auction for the sale of Forest timber and Sandalwood in the State of Kerala was a major step forward in the bringing in transparency in this field as well. We also saw increasing revenues for the Government, besides ensuring equitable distribution of resources for business as well as for public for building homes.
- E-Auction of Fly Ash from Thermal Power Plant has given an impetus to the cement industry that uses 30-40 percent fly ash for cement making. It was a major achievement towards alleviating a major environmental hazard.
Another aspect of Government business is its purchases. Government of India is the biggest purchaser of goods and services, and establishing credibility in this area cannot be achieved without the use of e-transactions. E-procurement, as it is commonly termed, enables suppliers –small time, medium, and big industrial and global houses on the same platform and offers a variety of options. The real-time discovery of prices through reverse e-bidding will enable all concerned to reduce cost and optimise budgets. The introduction of e-procurement in defence alone is likely to give savings of thousands of crores in revenue as well as in terms of manpower and time. The products and services can only match global standards by introducing competition and establish transparency at minimum cost. Though various policy guidelines have been formulated, e-procurement is still at a nascent stage and has a long way to go.
Based on these success stories it has now been established beyond doubt that using technology and internet based solutions to do business is the way forward for the Government. The way we do things has changed in the last few years due to affordability and penetration of technology. Through its e-commerce system, the MSTC is on its way to improving the economy by strengthening the Government in its endeavors. Moreover, such policy measures make for more revenues available for developmental projects; in a way making a better, transparent, and ethical India, each passing day.
(The author is the Chairman and Managing Director, MSTC – a public sector undertaking of the Government of India. Views expressed are personal)